The passage comes from Edith Wharton's "Expiation," which was originally published in Cosmopolitan in 1908; nowadays it can be found in the wonderful NYRB Classics collection The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. "Expiation" is a brief, slightly mechanical satire on authorship, publishing, and respectability, and it tells the story of Mrs. Fetherel, who has just published her first novel, the racily titled expose of upper-class immorality Fast and Loose . . . to disappointingly non-censorious reviews. She laments to her friend Mrs. Clinch, who replies:
"Oh, the reviewers," Mrs. Clinch jeered. She gazed meditatively at the cold remains of her tea-cake. "Let me see," she said, suddenly: "Do you happen to remember if the first review came out in an important paper?"The golden age was never as golden as memory's made it, the fallen present never as tarnished as the Jeremiahs would have us believe.
"That's it! I thought so. Then the others simply followed suit: they often do if a big paper sets the pace. Saves a lot of trouble. Now if you could only have got the Radiator to denounce you--"
"That's what [my Uncle] the Bishop said!" cried Mrs. Fetherel.
"He said his only chance of selling [his own book] Through a Glass Brightly was to have it denounced on the ground of immorality."
"H'm," said Mrs. Clinch, "I thought he knew a trick or two." She turned an illuminated eye on her cousin. "You ought to get him to denounce Fast and Loose!" she cried.
Mrs, Fetherel looked at her suspiciously. "I suppose every hook must stand or fall on its own merits," she said in an unconvinced tone.
"Bosh! That view is as extinct as the post-chaise and the packet-ship--it belongs to the time when people read books. Nobody does that now; the reviewer was the first to set the example, and the public were only too thankful to follow it. At first they read the reviews; now they read only the publishers' extracts from them. Even these are rapidly being replaced by paragraphs borrowed from the vocabulary of commerce. I often have to look twice before I am sure if I am reading a department-store advertisement or the announcement of a new batch of literature. The publishers will soon be having their 'fall and spring openings' and their 'special importations for Horse-Show Week.' But the Bishop is right, of course--nothing helps a book like a rousing attack on its morals; and as the publishers can't exactly proclaim the impropriety of their own wares, the task has to be left to the press or the pulpit."